Welcome to the seventh installment of a semi-regular feature here at GameCritics.com—the Bargain Basement. It's as sure as death or taxes that anyone who takes up videogaming will find themselves rooting through a bargain bin at one point or another. For those that do, few things feel as satisfying as saving hard-earned cash AND getting a gem of a game at the same time.
The titles covered below can usually be purchased online or anywhere that has a selection of used or discount games. (Usually for $20.00 or less!) Please keep in mind that since the games recommended in this feature may be older and not on the latest hardware, it's assumed that the graphics aren't going to be bleeding-edge. The final scores for each title are based on a rating which takes that into account, and does not penalize them by comparing them to today's standards. Gameplay is what we're talking about here. Happy hunting, and more importantly… Happy Gaming!
In the last installment of the Basement I put the spotlight on a ten-dollar gem called Seek & Destroy, a spinoff from Takara's Choro-Q series from Japan. This month, I'm giving the thumbs-up to an installment of the series itself, a charmer of a disc retitled Gadget Racers and released domestically.
Both games are structurally similar, but instead of featuring super-deformed tanks, Gadget Racers features a huge number of cute lil' cars, both real and fantasy. With a wide range of models from both sides of the water in addition to crazier choices like a toy robot or a stone Moai head from Easter Island, everyone will be able to find something they'd like to drive.
Seeing the "racer" part is easy, but where "gadget" comes into play is the large amount of customization options available. Much like an automotive version of cult favorite Armored Core, there are a wide array of parts and accessories to choose from. Some are functional (like bigger engines and high-grip tires), but many are fanciful like squid-shaped speedometers or a pair of bull horns for your ride's roof. Mixing and matching actually plays a big part in your success rate, so don't be fooled by some of the sillier selections. While the retractable wings or racing pontoons may get laughs the first few times you see them, they can give you quite an edge in the right race.
Besides the sprint races (3 laps on one track) and the Grand Prix mode (going through six tracks in succession) there are a large number of "restricted" races that have specific rules for entry. Some require things like a pastel-colored body, while others limit the engine size or other features. There's a lot of content here, and the game strikes a great balance between cute novelty personality satisfying technical elements. Gadget Racers is a great choice for those who found Gran Turismo too daunting or dry, but crave more than the average arcade racer.
Dragon's Lair and Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp
Developer: Don Bluth Studios
Regular readers of this site may recall that I recently reviewed Dragon's Lair 3D: Return To The Lair. That game was a modern update based off of classic titles from way back in the 1980's. Their revolutionary approach and impressive graphics not only blew people away back in the day, but earned the series a place in history. While the more recent effort isn't all that much to crow over, I was quite tickled to see the source material re-released on DVD. The gameplay is pretty questionable, but from a historical perspective these discs are gold.
For those who have never seen the two original games, the Dragon's Lair series is quite simple. Controls consist of Up, Down, Left, Right and Action. After starting play, you watch smooth hand-drawn animation play out FMV-style and then hit a button at the appropriate time, usually signified by a yellow flash onscreen. Push the right button and progress, or push the wrong one and try again. It's so simple that the game can be played with a remote control, and it is if you use a standard DVD player to run it. Fast reflexes are a must, and it's safe to say that you'll die many, many, many times before you get the hang of it and memorize the trouble spots.
Visually, the games hold up extremely well even after all these years. Created by Don Bluth Studios, the people behind full-length animated films like The Secret Of N.I.M.H. and An American Tail, the characters are fluid, alive and extremely expressive. There's also lots of humor with dozens of amusing ways for your character to meet his doom, and a multitude of grin-inducing grunts, yelps and howls on the audio side.
The first game, Dragon's Lair, is the weaker of the pair. Our hero, Dirk the Daring, must rescue fair Princess Daphne from the clutches of evildoers in the heart of a peril-filled castle. It consists of several scenes that involve all kinds of traps and monsters, but the areas can be played in any order, and sometimes the locales flip the left and right for a "mirror" effect. The semi-random order in which the levels appear gives the game a scattered, disjointed feeling, and can be somewhat aggravating since it's hard to remember the inputs when things keep changing.
The sequel, Dragon's lair II: Time Warp is the real star here. In this game, Princess Daphne has been kidnapped again, only now Dirk must chase her through different time periods and fantasy realms outside the walls of the castle. The variety of scenes is quite broad, featuring everything from prehistoric times to Carroll's Through The Looking Glass. In contrast to the original, Time Warp has a linear flow that builds a stronger sense of progression and gives players a chance to practice without any randomness to increase the already significant difficulty.
Each DVD comes with various extra material such as promo art and interviews, and the Dragon's Lair DVD even has a whole episode of an early game show that was based on competing for high scores on arcade machines. I wouldn't necessarily recommend these games for someone looking for solid play value, but for anyone interested in videogame heritage, these discs are a completely fascinating window to the past. (The scores are slanted to reflect this.) Dragon's Lair Rating: 4.5 out of 10 / Dragons' Lair II Rating: 7.0 out of 10
Gundam Battle Assault 2
I'm guessing that Gundam Battle Assault 2 probably had a much grander debut in Japan then the straight-to-the-$20-discount-bin treatment that it received in the United States. Right from the start of playing this two-player versus-style fighting title based on the uber popular sci-fi anime series Gundam for the PlayStation, I sensed high-production values, an abundance of content, and deeper gameplay than the retail price let on. The main draw of Gundam Battle Assault 2 is that the cast of player-controlled avatars are derived from the gigantic robots (referred to as mobile suits) of multiple Gundam universes (Universal Century, Gundam Wing, and G Gundam). This allows players to address the age-old male fanboy perpetuated hypothetical what-ifs of who would kick whose ass if they were to mix it up one-on-one.
Gundam Battle Assault 2 adopts the 2D sprite-based look and structure of Street Fighter-type games and in terms of gameplay, it bares most semblances to hyper frenetic gonzo pacing of the Marvel Versus Capcom series. However to call Gundam Battle Assault 2 a clone would be a mischaracterization of the game. What I found most refreshing about Gundam Battle Assault 2 is that while the controls and format are conventional, the game still manages find its own voice in other ways. The mobile suits moved methodically slow like skyscraper-tall machines; weapons run out of ammo; jump boosting ability needs recharging. None of these features are dramatically ground-breaking in and of themselves, but they do make for a more distinct experience and its addition to its other major positive: generous content.
Gundam Battle Assault 2 supports a museum-size cast of 30 mobile suits that ranges from hall-of-famers like the RX-78 to the goofier looking Rose Gundam. Despite sharing near identical control schemes, almost every mobile suit has unique abilities and must be played with different strategies. The computer also manages to put up a reasonable challenge and the multiplayer action is entertaining. The graphics have a grainy low-resolution edge (similar to all 2D fighting games), but there's no denying the gorgeous colors, beautifully meticulous hand-drawn art and vibrant animation. To top things off, there's no shortage of features which include a story mode, survival mode, 2 time attack modes, and many unlockable characters and bonuses. Gundam Battle Assault 2 is the very definition of getting more bang for your buck.
–Chi Kong Lui